A Year After The Fire, Coronavirus Stalls Notre-Dame’s Rebirth

On 15 April 2019, a fire broke out in the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, reducing huge portions of the building into ashes. President Macron eyes for its restoration by 2024. With the coronavirus pandemic happening, this goal is submerged in  murky waters. 

Photo: AP News/Thierry Mallet
Photo: AP News/Thierry Mallet

On the night of 15 April 2019, a suspected electrical short circuit engulfed the 850-year old Notre-Dame de Paris in flames, bringing thousands of people in the square, praying and singing hymns.

In full recognition of the value of the fallen cathedral, French President Emmanuel Macron promised to restore Notre-Dame, aiming for the reopening of the structure by 2024, coinciding with the year that Paris will host the Summer Olympics.

With this ambition, fundraising campaigns were launched for the reconstruction project. The campaign gained billions of euros in pledges, thanks to the overwhelming support mostly coming from major corporations from France and the U.S.

As is, this time frame is already constricted. Now that we are facing the coronavirus pandemic, the prospect of reopening the cathedral in 2024 is slowly becoming unlikely.

Interruption

In their interviews with the Notre-Dame restoration team, TIME has failed to receive definite answers regarding the reopening of the cathedral. But as it appears, the reopening of the cathedral in a fully restored state will be later than 2024.

“The aim is to reopen the cathedral in 2024 even though the work won’t all be done. The objective will be that the public will be able to reenter in 2024,” Stéphane Tissier, director of operations for Notre-Dame’s reconstruction told TIME.

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Since March 17, 67 million French have been placed in lockdown. Yesterday, President Macron announced the extension of the lockdown until May 11. The initial lockdown duration would have lifted the lockdown by tomorrow, April 15.

As of April 14, a total of 137,877 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been recorded in France, with a death toll of 14,967. With this, the reconstruction of the cathedral is of course out of the priorities for now.

Prior to the lockdown, the most urgent task the team was supposed to begin this spring is the removal of the web of molten steel scaffolding which prevents them from working on the gaping hole in the roof of the cathedral.

Since the start of the lockdown, the reconstruction project involving around 100 engineers, scientists, architects and archaeologists has been put to a halt.

As to when the restoration work will begin once more, no one truly knows. This is largely dependent on how fast France will be able to flatten the curve and recover from the damages of the pandemic. Once the lockdown does lift, the resumption of the project will be far from business as usual.

Reconfiguration

Stuck in their homes, the restoration team holds video meetings in order to reconfigure the timeline for the project. This mostly involves the protocols that will have to be put in place upon the lifting of the lockdown of France and once they can resume working.

“We are working to organize to pick up the work in the most scrupulous sanitary, secure conditions. It is out of the question to play with the security of people,” Jean-Louis Georgelin, who was appointed by President Macron to oversee the reconstruction project told TIME.

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Last week, Archbishop Michel Aupetit led a small prayer ceremony in the cathedral for Good Friday. Other than this, no more celebrations are going to be held, in compliance with the ban of large gatherings in France, also as a part of the lockdown protocols.

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